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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...

If you want to know I think- in year-end countdown style.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Making a list, checking it twice…

I couldn’t possibly be asked to compile a complete list of the top wines of 2005 without bias. I represent many brands, and that tends to dominate my tastes, as well as with what I have the most familiarity. I have instead compiled 3 separate lists, each representing the 3 most common intentions of anyone buying wine. Unfortunately, for every wine included, there were 3 excluded that could have made the list. So with all due respect to High Fidelity:

Top 7 “best wines at this moment” from 2005
7. 2001 Casa de la Ermita Crianza- A perfect blend of old world and new world. Dark fruit dominates, but so well structured, it gets better the second day of being opened
6. 1999 Novy Page-Nord Syrah-just enough age on this wine right now to show the beauty and elegance of a well-made syrah
5. 2002 Billaud Simon AC Chablis- This wine shows what a little purity of fruit can do for Chardonnay. No oak (of course) this wine has almost a salinity and savory quality to it.
4. 2004 Siduri Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir- This is the best wine I’ve had from this promising vineyard in Santa Rita Hills. It has layers of dried and fresh red fruits, almost indescribably complex!
3. 2003 Jaffurs Thompson Vineyard Syrah- Power and perfume. Exotic aromas and a length of fruit that is fantastic
2. 2002 Renard Peay Vineyard Syrah- This wine is remarkable. It shows elegance and power. It is almost driven by a touch of acidity, you’d swear it was old-world with Grenache.
1. 2003 C.G. di Arie Southern Exposure Zinfandel- One of the best Zinfandels I’ve ever had! This is a wine that has elegance and relatively low alcohol for a Zin. Almost drinks like a dense Pinot Noir. This is from the old Grandpere Vineyard fruit that put Renwood on the map.

Top 5 “wines to cellar” from 2005
5. 2003 Gypsy Dancer A & G Estate Pinot Noir- 10 years later, somebody in Oregon actually channeled the spirit of Burgundy
4. 2001 Andrew Geoffrey Cabernet Sauvignon, Diamond Mountain- Dense, chewy, fine grained tannins. Will age with structure and grace.
3. 2003 Richter Veldenzer Elisenberg Auslese Riesling- I could have put together a list of my top 20 favorite Richter wines, I chose this wine because of it’s obvious sweetness, yet searing acidity. This wine showed beautiful apple, pear, citrus and baking spices. A life-changing wine
2. 2002 Cayuse Cailloux Vineyard Syrah- Hands down-the best Domestic Syrah I’ve ever tasted, and for a Syrah freak, that is heady praise. And yet…
1. 2002 Chave Hermitage Blanc-o.k., someone forgot to tell Jean Louis that 2002 was a rotten vintage! This is a wine that I couldn’t possibly put into words. If you haven’t tasted a Chave Hermitage Blanc, you are missing an important part of your wine education. A blend of Marsanne and Rousanne with a little (or a lot) of age will completely change your expectations. The alcohol that drives the structure seems to prop this wine up year in and year out. A waxiness that coats, soothes and conveys indescribable flavors is the only quality I feel like I can put into words.

Top 5 “everyday wines” from 2005
5. 2003 Henry Poiron Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie- I’m a sucker for a great Loire white, or 2.
4. 2003 Henry Pelle Sancerre- In my humble opinion, everyone else in the world that is making Sauvignon Blanc should just pull up their roots and bow to the king of this now marginalized wine! Whew, Flowers, limes, custard, all good.
3. 2003 Pablo Padin Albarino- Wine geek wine, almost like drinking orange-glazed honey cake, but with no sweetness.
2. 2001 Chateau Perray Jouannet Anjou- Cab Franc at it’s most quaffable. You’d swear it was a great Cru Beaujolais!
1. 2002 Eric Ross Struttin Red Zinfandel Blend- Zinfandel that is dominated by Fruit and Acidity, not alcohol. A novel concept in and of itself, this wine is buoyed by long hangtime and 20% merlot. I swear I could drink this wine everyday and be happy.

Toledo, bad place to be into wine? …not so much!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

I moved back to my hometown of Toledo about a year ago. Before that, I spent a lifetime (seemingly) in California in the wine biz. I bought and sold for many years, and when time came to return home to roost, a sudden terror came over me. Is there a place for me, and/ or wine in Toledo, Ohio, or do I need to finally finish school, or learn a trade? The answer then was, um, wait and see. But after a year, I can honestly say, Toledo is not a wine purgatory as is purported. Toledo will always live in the shadows of Detroit and Cleveland, so it is assumed that culture cannot survive in the shadows of these great, ahem, cultural hubs. Not only do I believe that this is inaccurate, I believe the opposite is true. I believe that the wine culture can thrive in Toledo where it may fail in other places. Here is my optimists top 10 list of why Toledo can be (and is) a thriving wine culture.

10. Freedom of Choice is on the March- with 20 some-odd distributors now servicing the Northwest Ohio market; we have choices beyond the giant conglomerate distributors and wines. Furthermore, Ohio has actually set some laws of distribution to place small companies and large companies on a level playing field.

9. We drink a lot!- Toledoans drink their share of alcohol, so puritanical efforts to limit availability usually falls on deaf ears. We also have more disposable income than any major market in Ohio.

8. Food TV Rules! – Nationally, we are becoming a culture of foodies. Emeril, Rachel Ray, and the like have found huge ratings, especially in the Midwest where all we have to do all winter is eat and watch T.V. Wine and Food go hand in hand.

7. I remain employed!- My day job is selling wine, and to be able to continue said career in Northwest Ohio had many naysayers saying, well, nay. But I, or rather, you, have proved them wrong. You love wine, you really love wine.

6. Wine is the new black!- For whatever reason, wine has overtaken beer nationally as the #1 preferred beverage of choice. Blame the film, Sideways; blame our following the Europeans in food and wine, no matter. Wine is surging in popularity, growing about 7% in increased bottle sales year in and year out for the last 10 years. That’s pretty healthy growth.

5. Cheap wine has gotten better, good wine has gotten cheaper- With competition from every wine growing country, global wine quality has improved dramatically and prices have stabilized. Good news for a working-class economy.

4. Personalities- In my brief but glorious year, I have met some amazing, exhausting, exhilarating, inspiring, bitter and brilliant personalities in the wine business. People that are true pillars to what is happening in the wine community, and people that, years ago began to steer this ship in the right direction. Every one of these people has put a premium on customer service, and understands the power of a great wine recommendation. You can find these people in the wine shops, and restaurants around Toledo, you will find them at charity events and tastings. And you will find them leading Toledo towards an improved wine culture.

3. A chance to taste the wine- With wine tasting events in every nook and cranny of Toledo, practically every night. Toledoans are afforded every opportunity to kick the proverbial tires before purchasing their wine. This is also a great chance to ask questions and learn about wine.

2. Restaurants that get it!- In the last year, we have seen the rise of the wine list. Restaurateurs that provide not only wine, but wines that are well-thought out, and appropriate for pairing with an exceptional menu.

1. Retail, Retail, Retail- with The Anderson’s (3 locations), Walt Churchill’s Market, Churchill’s, The Vineyard, Joseph’s Beverage Center, Maumee Wines, Aficionado’s, Sautter’s and many more independently owned and run wine stores in the Toledo area, Toledoans have a staggering selection of wines to choose from. All wines are chosen by the area’s most educated and most talented wine people, all in hopes of bringing you and your friends a special bottle of wine at every price.

Organic and biodynamic wines in a great big, confusing and convoluted nutshell…

Monday, November 21, 2005

Consumers today, are less and less trusting of the big evil corporate food and beverage producers, and rightfully so. We have seen an increase of interest in businesses such as Whole Foods, appealing to the consumers that demand accountability of their food producers. But where does that leave the wine consumer that is looking for an environmentally friendly and relatively healthful product with minimal chemicals? Confused!

So what is really happening with organics, and what is biodynamics? Wineries are largely going towards organics with 2 notions assumed a) Sustainable Agriculture is healthier for the Earth and the grapes b) this all results in higher quality of wine in the end. This shatters many previous notions about winegrowing that states that the more difficult a time the vine has growing, the better the wine in the end. Vintners have recently discovered that with limiting the use of pesticides and herbicides, they have become a more creative group of growers. Imagination and creativity are nothing new to the organic movement, particularly when we throw biodynamics into the mix.

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), an Austrian Philosopher who wrote controversial opinions on practically everything from religion to education, is the father of biodynamics. Essentially, bidynamics offers specific protocols for tending to the Earth. Making use of natural enemies to the pests of your vegetation, providing cover crops and species diversity in any farmed piece of land, and the use of composting all play a central role in any biodynamically farmed piece of land. The recognition that phases of the moon affect not only tides, but the way water behaves within the very roots of grapevines helps to dictate when vines are planted, grafted, pruned, and when grapes are picked. The resulting soil is so healthy and rich, that the quality of grapes seems to really jump. These practices have been in place in many parts of Europe, in some form, for decades. We are just now seeing the trend continue into the New World.

If so many wineries are moving in this direction, why don’t we hear about it more often? Two reasons, confidence, or lack thereof, and labeling. Growers are not yet confident enough that organics will get them through the tough times that they are slow to make the commitment of a proclamation of organics. If a winery goes down the path of marketing the fact that they are organic, it is a path they can’t go back on. Once it’s out there, you can’t justify the need to save your crops with chemicals should the need arise, so a leap of faith is needed. And being so young in the process here in the states, it will simply take some time; it is someone’s livelihood we’re discussing. Also, the public lack confidence in organic wines. This is mostly due to the complicated nature of defining organics on a wine label.

Unfortunately, in the U.S., there are multiple agencies that have their say about how something may be labeled “organic”. In a nutshell, a winery must adhere to multiple requirements by multiple agencies that all have differing opinions on the use of sulfites. The USDA requires the use of sulfites to be written on all labels of wine in which more than 10 parts per million of sulfites occurs. Additionally, a winery must pay all sorts of fees for organic certification, something required to be labeled as organic. And then there’s Europe, where labeling laws vary in all countries, so what is organic in Spain, may not be organic in the U.S.

At the crux of the complication is a little detail called sulfites. Sulfites is a naturally-occurring preservative found on the skins of grapes. It has been part of the winemaking process since long before the Period of Scientific Enlightenment, albeit, mostly unknowingly. There is a miniscule segment of the population that is truly allergic to sulfites, an unfortunate condition in which a person that comes in contact with sulfites can go into anaphylactic shock. In my many years of meeting and speaking with the wine drinking population, I have only met 1 person truly allergic to sulfites. Everyone else assumes that sulfites are affecting them, but in reality, it is probably one of the wines more than 500 different chemical compounds that is bothering them.Organic and biodynamic producers should not be at the mercy of sulfites in order to become recognized.

Organic Wine has long been the domain of the quality-unconscious. They have sacrificed their palates for the noble exercise of eco-friendly beverages. But this notion of organic wine is pretty complicated, and to simply call a wine organic, does a disservice to the both the public and the nuanced art of growing and making wine. The important fact is that organics and biodynamics are both very positive to both the consumer and the Earth. In time, we won’t consider organics to be a novelty anymore, and as commonplace as any winegrowing practice.

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