Tuesday, February 28, 2006


I can't believe it's actually here. I'm so freaking excited I could just...what's that? You don't know about the Cork and Demon Western Wine Tour 2006? Wow, are you outta the loop. Lemme bring you up to speed.

At 4:30 am Wednesday, March 1st (which at the time of this post is about 17 hours nigh), I'm leaving Austin and driving West. My goal: to hit as many of the AVAs in the American west as possible. Will I go to all the superhot spots, like Santa Barbara and Sonoma and the Willamette Valley? Yeah, but I'm also going to El Paso, the southeastern wine trail of Arizona, the new Ramona Valley AVA. See, I'm not in search of America's Finest Wines (brought to you by Enologix, music by Vivaldi), I'm in search of America's finest Wine People. People at all levels of winemaking, selling and growing, who love what they do for more than just the money it brings.

I'll be posting as I go. It will be a little sporadic, so if you're interested in checking in with the trip, may I suggest subscribing to my rss feed? I've got a little feedburner badge up there where you can join in the fun. I'll post a lot, though, as often as I can find wireless satisfaction. Did you know, by the way, that KOA's have wireless internet coverage? Wow, now that's Kamping.

I conceived of this little stunt a few months ago, when I decided that the retail job I held wasn't going to take me where I wanted to go. I love wine, and I love sharing my knowledge, but enthusiasm don't pay no bills. The next step in this town, short of studying for the MS (Master Sommelier, and there's a real big demand for those in Texas) was to go into wholesale, which pays better, but with all due respect to my wholesale bretheren, I've heard little satisfaction from you guys about your career.

So I decided the time was right to take that Lifetime 'Fuck It' Road Trip. You know, the one where you follow your bliss and see where it leads? And in the interest of not ending up in a coffee house somewhere in Bend, Oregon, scribbling in a tattered journal about how life isn't fair, I figured I ought to do something constructive. Thus, the Western Wine Tour was born.

Please join me. After all, this trip's costing me a fortune. I promise interviews, wine tasting notes (fair ones) and lots of pictures. And please email me with any comments or suggestions. I can't wait to hear from you.

Okay then. First stop: Val Verde vineyards in Del Rio, Texas, the oldest bonded winery in the state with continuous production for 123 years. I'll probably be able to post this by March 2nd, but be gentle, I've gotta lotta driving to do.

Thanks, and may you never drink so much wine that you snap the stem off your Riedel glass,


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Little NY Times trash...

I...I don't know what to say...except that I had no idea what a playa Mr. Parker was....

Naked Came the Vintner

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Random Kosher Wine Tasting

So I was in my old place of employment picking out a white burgundy for someone special when...oh, is that a vendor tasting wine? Don't mind if I do. Today's sampling: a selection of kosher wines from the Abarbanel Wine Company in Cedarhurst, purveyors of kosher wines that aren't your Grandmother's Manischewitz.

A year ago, I couldn't help but notice the seeming lack of kosher wines around passover. But, it didn't seem to phase the younger customers in the market for them; they simply bought the obligatory bottle of cheap stuff and then asked for suggestions for the "real" bottle, the one they'd drink after the Seder. But it seems that there's a burgeoning market of wines that want to be that "real" bottle and be Passover appropriate to boot.

Pictured above is one of the wines I talked Michael Mann into giving me so's I could take a picture of the bottle. See where the vintage is either 2002 or 5762? The latter number is the vintage according to the Hebrew calendar. I believe they begin that calendar from the moment man took his first breath (my own calendar begins with my first purchase of a Tom Waits LP, just for comparison.)

The juice within is from the Judean Hills. Pleasant nose on it, smells like sweet aromatic spice. Wide juicy red fruit was alright, but it was a bit sweet and once it had warmed up a little too much, it had that slight pickly thing on the back end. But you're only going to notice that kinda thing if you're sitting there chewing on it. I think it's a good crowd pleaser for passover--handsome label, juicy Bordeaux style with ample fruit and not too dry for your fussy aunts. Retails for around $12-$15.

Fun Fact, from the Abarbanel site:

There are two levels of kosher wine, that made through the normal processes of winemaking and that made with one extra process. That second process is called "Mevushal." Mevushal is the Hebrew word for "cooked."

For wine to retain its kosherness when opened and poured by a non-Jew, such as waiters, the laws of kashrut stipulate that the wine be made chemically different from non-kosher wine in every respect - in this case, that it be made Mevushal. A Mevushal wine retains its religious purity no matter who opens or pours it or drinks it. Modern technology allows the rules of fine wine production to merge satisfactorily with religious laws.

I was told by Mr. Mann that the same effect of 'Meshuval' is now being acheived by flash freezing, rather than heating.

Check out the Ababanel site. There's a lot of info on the kosher process and it's significance. I was impressed with the collection of kosher vino from all over the place. Must be a nice thing to have some choices other than Gan Eden, Baron Herzog or Mouton Cadet.

See, random tastings and conversation are the kinds of things that make wine a worthwhile interest, not hoarding up a vast collection of expensive bottles or belonging to the Screaming Eagle mailing list or wtf ever. And to the end of making everyone realize this, I submit to you my new mantra:


Everybody got that?????


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Traditional vs. Modern Italians Butt Heads A Lot Lately

I've seen a lot of news lately about producers in all areas of Italy butting heads over traditional vs. modern styles. For the geek in you, it's an interesting fight. I come up on the traditional side 99% of the time, but I've also had wines in the modern style (a brunello comes to mind) that I thought were very well done. Kinda like this: I'm not a Jerry Bruckheimer movie fan, with all the expensive explosions and predictable plot lines, but that doesn't mean I don't come across an action movie that satisfies (The Long Kiss Goodnight comes to mind).

I read these struggles of style, and even as I'm afraid they're indicative of an irreversible trend towards the fat, plush, New World model, I also see that there are plenty of people who love tradition, and that maybe, as the world's interest in wine increases, the market will bear both styles.

Here's an article from the NY Times that's typical of what's going on. For a preview, my favorite quote:

Mr. Soldera points to the wine, the color of polished rubies, and assails those who assess a wine by the depth of color. "Judging wine by a dark color is for stupid people," he said. "This is the color of sangiovese. You should be able to look through the wine and see your fingernail on the other side."

Sorry to those who gotta sign in to read it, but it's worth it.


Friday, February 17, 2006

Western Wine Tour Update: What the F**k am I Doing?

This morning I woke up very anxious about the wine tour* I'm about to take. An interesting moment came to mind: when I was in Dallas recently, meeting the father of a friend and his wine-and-car enthusiast friends, one of the gentlemen had an unexpected reaction to hearing about my blog. When I told him that I reviewed wine, he said, "Wow, you must be really confident of your expertise to put your opinion out there like that."

"No, not really," I said. "I've just got a nose, and a palate, and some knowledge. But that's all you need."

This answer didn't seem to compute well for him. I think he had more fun believing that wine appreciation was an exclusive club for those who had "palates" and the sophistication necessary to evaluate good wine.

Everybody has a palate, people. Everyone who has a tongue and a patch of nasal cilia can understand wine, food, coffee, cigars, good scotch, or what have you. Some palates are more sensitive to certain things: tolerance for sweetness, or the esther that reminds the brain of roses. But other than slowing down, paying attention, and learning a little bit of technical jargon, there's no big mystery to enjoying wine. And the more you learn, the more fun it is.

So I don't want there to be any exclusive club. I want there to be a big tent, 'cause what's really great about anything you enjoy is being able to enjoy it with other people. What the hell good is it to geek out over a gorgeous 1993 Weinbach Sylvaner all by your lonesome?

I've been deep in the planning of my trip, and since I've never done anything like this before, I'm pretty much winging it. I have no idea what's ahead. It's occured to me that I'm wanting this trip to be everything at once---The Ultimate Road Trip with plenty of room to wander freely, The Ultimate Writing Trip, with time on my own to get in touch with the Kerouac within, and The Ultimate Wine Trip, where I bust balls to get interviews, gather information, and blog like a madwoman. Whatzit gonna be? I could run myself into the ground, panicking when I'm relaxing, angry when I'm tired of talking to people.

Here's what I promise: I'm going to go out there, and talk to as many winemakers as I can, find out who's still passionate about what they do. I promise to be just an average gal who knows what she knows and loves her some wine, and ask whatever the hell I want to ask. The worst that can happen is that I'll meet a bunch of people who love what I love, right?

Right. I've got eleven days. My stomach just jumped.

Keep up with me, and send me vibes of goodness.


*The Cork and Demon Wine Tour, btw: three months, driving across the wine countries of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and up the coast of California, to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. I'll be blogging from the road.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

New Austin Wine Bar sez: "Corkscrew U"

Ten years ago...well, hell, two years ago, there was no wine bar that had come close to surviving in Austin. There'd been a couple that had sprung up, nosedived, and faded into obscurity. People just weren't into it: if they wanted to drink, they went to a bar, and if they wanted to eat, they went to a restaurant. If they wanted a good glass of wine, they went to the restaurant bar. It's only been very recently, I'd say, that wine enthusiasm is such that a place like Cork and Company can exist, and do well.

The fellas that put this venture together are ex-corporate recruiters who, for some inexplicable reason, became disenchanted with their gigs and wanted to wiggle into the food and beverage industry. When they decided that a wine bar was what Austin needed most, they were both correct and taking a risk. Wine's all the rage with the yupsters and the weary executives, and knowing something about it sets you apart from the herd. To that end, Cork and Company has a series of classes tailored for the eager novice in wine tasting, (one entitled 'Corkscrew U'...a clever turn of words or an inside joke?) chocolate tasting and wine and food pairing. They also sell their wines retail, and at prices that don't make your butt clinch. So you can do a class and buy the bottle you liked, and maybe scope around for a member of your gender of desire drinkin' the same Merlot you've got. Dude! All they need is one of those seven minute dating round robins, and they'll be Lookin' For Love Central.

The wine on the tasting menu is arranged by wackily named flights such as 'Drama Queen' (two pinot gris and a Lugana) or 'Flower Power' (two Albarinos and a Reisling). Okay, this is kinda fun, kinda friendly, says don't trip on it, it's just grape juice, and that's a good thing. The flights are in threes, with pricing per flight, glass or 2 oz. taste. With a flight, you get your very own card with the names of the wines and a place for tasting notes. All very cool. My only issue is the way the some of the flights are arranged. 'Flower Power', for instance. Why not throw a viognier or picpoul de pinet in there instead of two albarinos? The flights themselves could be a bit more diverse in several places.

The idea of offering a cheese plate and a flight of chocolates on the menu for pairing is right and good, but I found myself wanting more than the one option for each. The one cheese plate has manchego, brie, dry jack and a chevre; and while this is a good smattering, I hope in the future they expand the cheese selection to better pair up with any given wine flight.

Three in a row, cute as a button

My friend Aaron and I tried the 'Blended, Not Stirred' flight, two Californian blends and one Australian GSM. Of the the three, I was suprised to like the 2001 Holy Trinity GSM by Grant Burge the best: lots of fruit, but also bright spicy notes and oak that didn't bang you over the head. Second best was the 2003 Edmonds St. John 'Rocks and Gravel' Rhone Blend, a winner in my book for the stony notes you don't normally detect in California juice. The third, 2003 Hook and Ladder was a Cab-dominant Bordeaux blend full of cedar and vegetal notes and just a tad too much oak showing for my taste, especially against the other two, whose oak seemed more well integrated to me.

White Russian flavored chocolates? Are you sure about that?

For dessert, we had the chocolate flight. Again, I wanted there to be a more thoughtful collection of chocolate. After all, who needs a liquor-flavored bon-bon to pair with your wine? Bring in solid chunks of deep dark chocolate, or truffles without the booze. I will say, though, that the sparkling shiraz was just fine with all of the chocolate fare.

So in sum: I liked the way the place was set up, I liked the atmosphere, and the bartender knew enough about wine to impress me. It's a perfect place to get to know wine and meet people. For the wine dork, however, there's not so much. I'd like to see the above changes, and some expansions to the wine collections, both retail and bar. As it is, there are good selections, but very cautious ones. And wayyyyyy too little Italian! And, like, zero syrah! Okay, there's syrah, but not much. Don't make me come back there.


Monday, February 13, 2006

2003 'Tres Ojos' Old Vine Garnacha

Oh...you are a naughty little Spanish wine, aren't you?

Two freaking weeks to go before the Cork and Demon leaves to explore the wild West! Aren't you excited?!? Don't forget to check in while I'm on the road. I'll be posting at every opportunity, and at least twice a week, with interviews, tasting notes, smartass quips, and pictures of adorable vineyard dogs. Hey man, just remember: this great big western wine tour isn't really for me. It's for you. You, who have a sick obsession with knowing more about wine and the people who make it. And also for you, who are currently gestating such a wine bug, and want to hear from someone who wants to bring it por la gente, for the people, not just por los geekos. This, all the preparation, toil, sweat, fears and mileage on my car: it's all for you, baby.

Okay, I'm totally lying. It's really for me. But it's for you, too.

Oh, and you see the little guy perched on the candle holder in back? That's my daruma doll. See, when you're starting a new venture, you get yourself a daruma, color in one eye, and tell the daruma what you're hoping to achieve. Then when you've achieved the goal, you color in the other eye and he becomes a little keepsake that reminds you that you've got what it takes to do what you say you're gonna do. His second eye will be filled in when I return from my wine tour. Or, maybe after the book is published....hmmmm.....

Now, this little wine I got pictured here. Oh, she's a hussy. I love these cheap Spanish wines I've been tasting recently. These garnachas and monastrells and blends under $10 are definitely made to appeal to the New World palate, but there's always something...untamed about them. A wild side that makes them way more appealing to me that they're similarly priced bretheren from the States.
This one is all fat and juicy with that classic garnacha ripe strawberry/cherry fruit, lip-smacking and shameless, spiced up by a devilish touch of pepper. It's that little pepper, the juicy tang and the tannins, which wrap up the palate very nicely, that set this wine apart from US cheapies. I'm gonna say, if you're in the mood for big juicy fruit without having to compromise personality, and you got $8.99 to blow, go for it.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

2002 Colvin Syrah, Patina Vineyard

You're probably thinking one of two things, depending on your love of Italian wine: A) Hey! This isn't an Italian wine! Keep writing about those, or B) Thank the Christ Child this woman is over the Italian wine streak!

Either way, you ought to hear about this wine.

I'm back on syrah, baby, and mama LOVES her some syrah. Even a massive, voluptuous syrah like this makes me happy. This Colvin weighs in at 15.8%, and it's got the heft to prove it.

I met Mark Colvin a while ago when a vendor brought him by. He told me the story of his little girl bringing him an unusually lovely stone, and he decided that it would be perfect for the label.

Colvin was a pharmacy student in Colorado until a sip of '78 Chateau Chevral Blanc blew his mind. From there, he spent a decade devouring information about wine and it's making, finally moving his family to Walla Walla to set up shop. I love a good story like that, don't you? Beats the hell out of "Bob was rich and bored and decided that making wine would make him popular with the ladies."

(I don't know who has that story, but you know what I mean.)

2002 Colvin Syrah, Patina Vineyard

What I love about syrah is this: when it's good, it tastes like a meal. This Colvin syrah delivers nicely without beating you over the head. Nose full of chocolate, mint and violets, and a hint of something kinda smoky bacon. Upon tasting it, I immediately regretted my vow to have yogurt and cereal for dinner (tryin' to reduce) and longed for a nice bloody lamb chop. I am so drooling right now.
The palate---lovely. Just lovely. Satiny dark fruit and chocolate held up by a fresh lemony acidity. A nice bump of flavor in the back palate and a lingering finish. After I drank a bit, I pumped the bottle and put it back in the cooler for tomorrow, 'cause this is really a wine that wants that lamb chop, seared with herbs....

Stupid f**cking yogurt.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Of Northern Italians, Tequila, and Handmade Boots

High on the list of Things That Keep Me From Flinging Myself Off a Bridge is meeting very handsome Northern Italians who make and sell amazing wine. The Hub was showing these gentlemen around his accounts, and since I'd previously reviewed one of the labels, he invited me along. Despite his initial concern, two of us gals decided that we simply could not miss these guys trying on real Texas cowboy boots, and ended up hanging on the whole night with 'em. Why the hell not? Who doesn't want the companionship of cool, brilliant females?

Bressan's Wines

Fulvio Luca Bressan, a classically trained Bordeaux winemaker and decended from a family long dedicated to the vines, takes no shit and cuts no corners when it comes to making wine. Like many in Friuli, he's of the opinion that varietals such as Pinot Nero (Noir) and Cabernet Sauvignon do not "belong" to the French, since those varietals have been cultivated by their ancestors since the early nineteenth century. He believes that these grapes have not only a home in Friuli, but can reflect in their quality and terroir that long history, and be among the finest in the world. For him, the fruit and it's pips dictate readiness for harvest, and wood treatment should always reflect subtly in the finished juice. That means big 2,000 liter barrels. "I want to drink the wine, not eat the door to the kitchen," he says.
Fulvio doesn't release his wines until the earliest possible stage of their readiness. At that time they should be lovely and approachable, but will "always taste better for the rest of their lives".
Now that might sound obvious and all, but this man understands what the meaning of "earliest possible stage" is. His current release of Pignolo, a "a pain in the ass" of a grape, is 1997.

1997 Bressan 'Pignol' Pignolo, Friuli

This varietal is native to Friuli, and is another vanishing beauty in Italy. Called 'The Ancient Friulian Nobleman', a good one yields up subtle but complex aromatics and an elegantly restrained palate. I can't think of anything that compares to it. Despite the near decade on this wine, it's still a teenager with vibrant color and ripe fruit. Put your nose half an inch above the rim, you get violets. Deeper in: anise, minerals and crushed dark berries. Tannins...oh, jeez, what did the Hub say? "They massage the feet of the grape..." which led to a long extension of that metaphor across the table for which we ought all to be spanked. Anyway, they were damned supple. And this baby's only going to get better. Fulvio believed that this wine will be at it's peak in twenty-five more years. Maybe an exaggeration, but I was convinced at the time.

2001 Bressan Pinot Nero

I'm gonna break the Cardinal Rule of blogging and admit that I am only just now wrapping my mind around Pinot Noir and all of it's little secrets. But being a novice isn't a bad thing at all: the learning is the real blast, and a good Pinot can require discussion regardless of your degree of know-it-all-ness. It took me many questions answered and many returns to this glass to begin to understand the way it had already developed, and where it was headed. The nose was big with dominant red berry fruit, black tea and minerals, with little of the earthiness that signals a traditional style to me. But this wine is far from mature. It was a pleasure to drink now, especially with it's already remarkably supple tannins, but I learned it would take several more years at least to fully acquire the intensity promised in the palate.

The Bressan estate does several other wines, including a Schiopettino that wasn't available for tasting (dammit). They grow Merlot and Cabernet, as well as several white varietals including Pinot Grigio and Verduzzo.

Casa Zuliani

I fell in love with the Tocai Friulano a while back, and was super stoked to get me some more o' that goooood Friulian white. This is one of the best, and I mean best in that literal way, places on the Lord's earth for white wine. Tell me I'm wrong, c'mon, bring it! I know there's the Loire and Burgundy and the Mosel and wherever, and I'm telling you that Northern Italy is their frickin' peer. Casa Zuliani has been around since 1923, the vines are nestled in a region just between the DOCs of Collio and Isonzo del Friuli. Frederico Frumento, an heir to the estate runs the place now, and mama, is he a good lookin' Italian. (Oh, crap, did I say that out loud?) Er, anyway...a couple of things make his wine so lovely. One is the dirt. The mix of clay and loam under his vines lends a gorgeous minerality, and I understand that particular terroir is exclusive to that little chunk near the Collio. The other thing is that the Zuliani clan's vineyards are managed for very high vine density per hectare (average around 5,000 plants/ha) and very low fruit yield (0.8-1.2 kg).

2004 Casa Zuliani Malvasia

Aw, man. Beautiful clear, bright straw yellow. Aromatics full of ripe pit fruit, flowers and herbs. Super crisp, dry and mineral-licious on the palate. It sees six months in stainless and then one more month in bottle. I'd put this up against any shellfish wine you love any day.

2004 Casa Zuliani Sauvignon Blanc

Sauv Blanc from Friuli is like no other expression of it in the world. You can keep your big stinky NZ stuff, no offense. This is also aged in stainless for six and in bottle for one. Have you ever crushed fresh tomato leaf in your fingers? That's what this wine smells like. The palate is as lush as it needs to be, with lots of star fruit and minerals and a long, rich finish. Frederico told me that his estate also makes a select Sauvignon Blanc that doesn't make it across the pond, but that is harvested one berry at a time.

Warning: do not drink tequila before meeting back up at the most famous boot store in Austin. Your understanding of the value of money will be severely impaired.

2001 Casa Zuliani 'Winter' Rosso (50% Merlot, 25% Cab Sauv, 25% Cab Franc)

Fun Fact: did you know that what they call 'Cabernet Franc' in Friuli is really Carmenere? Wowza.

The varietals for this wine were vinified separately due to their different ripening times, and were likewise aged in different types of barrels. After 14 months, the wine is assembled in stainless and given six months, then bottled unfiltered. Needless to say, it's a big palate full of fat ripe Merlot complimented with the spicy, dusty love of the Cab and the Franc. Er, Carmenere. That's still messing with my mind. It's a well made wine that I think would appeal now to many people who love a rich ripe style, but for me, I'd like to see what it does in several years.

Frederico Frumento, Fulvio Luca Bressan, and Paolo Bernardi (President, Vinus Purveyors). All three say that stelvins and synthetics are for pussies, and only corks will do for a well crafted wine.

I'd also like to give a shout-out to Scott at Vespaio for his hospitality during our post-tequila dinner, during which he brought us out seven styles of risotto, all of which were little bits o' heaven: