Friday, January 28, 2011

2009 Owen Roe Abbot's Table

OMG! A wonderful restaurant in town (on NW 21st, which narrows it down some for you) sells this very good wine for $54.


I sell it for just $17, only 31% of their ridiculous price!

They have a corkage fee of $15. So find some similar wine and take it in, and pay $15 for them to open it (realize that at $15 for about :30 seconds of uncorking work, you just paid your restaurant at a rate of $1800 an hour for the corkage service--not bad work if you can get it ;).

Why do I say "find a similar wine?"

Some restaurants don't let you bring in a wine if it's on their wine list. This leads us to a tip of major importance: Always take in two different bottles, and make sure at least one of them is an older bottle. This is because most restaurants cycle through their wines so quickly that a bottle never has a chance to get old enough to be properly drinkable, before it's all ordered by patrons and gone. 96% of all restaurants serve only wines that are babies. Unless you like committing infanticide, that is an excellent additional reason to take in your own older bottles.

Why not have a wine with dinner that is actually ready to drink?

And save a fortune, too.



Very little room for wine snobs, regarding hybrid grapes

Sure, if you have the bucks (I don't) and your tastes run to Ch. Lafite and Screaming Eagle and Cayuse and Quilceda Creek, then you can tell me that, for you, it is only the best vinifera wines that will do. OK.

But all the other wine drinkers (99.7% of all wine drinkers) need to keep open minds towards lots of grapes. There are thousands of different vinifera grapes which are made into wine, on this planet--how many of those have you tried? And there are thousands of cross-species ("inter-specific") hybrid grapes, too, many of which are made into wines, and many of those wines can be very good. Some have gotten high 90s scores from Wine Spectator. (Most hybrid grapes contain both vinifera genes, and also some native American grapes' genes.)

Leaving aside all the reasons why hybrids are so good to grow (more disease resistance; less spraying and tractor fuel required; earlier ripening, so more-consistent harvests and less vineyard labor for netting required), it is becoming ever more clear that hybrid grapes, in the right sites and in the right winemaker's hands, make outstanding wines.

This is not surprising to me, especially after I learned the following:

1. Most or all vinifera grapes contain genes that are shared by American grapes. This is for many reasons: (a) all grapes share one common ancestor, so there is much shared genetic material, among grape species; (b) when the American and EurAsian areas were all one shared land mass, all the current grape species could and did share genetic material readily with each other; and (c) since humans have been moving grapes from continent to continent (in the past 1000 years or so), many grape species have again been sharing genes, through both natural and human-driven processes.

2. Therefore, viniferas contain American grape genes, and vice-versa.

3. Some hybrids contain a LOT of vinifera genes. Regent, for example, is more than 80% vinifera.
Bottom line: In grapes, there is no such thing as a "thoroughbred." All grapes are polyglots, containing many other grapes in their backgrounds.

Also, there is no "good" or "bad" label that should be ascribed to a particular grape species. There are only grapes, within each species, that are good or bad, to you, based on a particular site, season, and winemaker. It takes a continuing journey to attempt to find all the good ones. Please: Don't limit your journey to just the world of vinifera. Some of those wines aren't good. And some hybrid wines are very good. Keep looking, and keep an open mind (as suggested by the photo above, which you might have been wondering about ;)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

1986 Leoville Poyferre

I sold a few older odds and ends recently, and the buyer didn't want this one. It hit the tail end of its plateau in 2005, though the downward slope of a Bordeaux's tail end on its maturity curve is quite flat (assuming good storage conditions), so I wasn't too concerned about that. But, "You should drink it," said the buyer, so I did. This cost all of $19 in 1989, and is worth maybe $98 today.

The "Leoville Trio" are Second Growths in St. Julien, in the Haut Medoc, in Bordeaux. All share a common history, having been broken apart only in the past few centuries. Leoville Las Cases is one of the "Super Seconds," for its sustained very-high quality. Probably Leoville Barton is generally considered next best, on average. That leaves poor Leoville Poyferre as the last of the three.

Spectator scored this 88 (and Parker 92) at one point, but the last Spectator review gave it an 86, calling it "lean and firm, with ample tannins for aging and complex cedar, currant and spicy flavors. Lacking the depth and concentration needed for greatness."

My comments:

Sadly, every step of the process got a little worse. The cork was the best, and the palate the worst. Yet, it is a pretty good wine and was just fine with beef.

The cork: Awesome; seriously the best part of this wine. Rich tobacco notes, with a toastiness and plum hints. Delightful!

Bouquet: Vibrant bright red fruit. Some spices. But the nose was fleeting, perhaps due to the age. The wine did NOT open up in the glass--in fact, it departed, which is a strong indication that it's time to drink it. Still, that fruit was very young; it's great to know that at 26 years a barely-above-average Bordeaux can still seem so young and alive.

Color: A very good reddish-purple. Not the slightest edge-browning.

Palate: Good, not great. Not as rich as I'd like; bordering on whispers of rumors of being too thin. Fresh red fruits, but one-dimensional. Short finish. Really needs some more jamminess. Smooth.

Please convince me if I'm wrong, but I continue to believe that properly-aged Bordeaux is among the best wine in the world. Any young person who will grow up to appreciate it should be buying it as practicable and should be properly storing it, for some future date. If you guess right, you could resell some at a profit; if not, at least you can drink it with friends.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jan 22, 2011 Old Cab Tasting

Yesterday we had 30 friends/customers over to sample the following lineup of fine old wines:
2001 J. Strub Riesling Kabinett (great year; glorious at 10 years)
2000 Ken Wright Wahl Vineyard (really impressive)
2003 Beaux Freres Pinot noir (first-rate)
2009 homemade Marechal Foch (happy to say it is the best Foch I have ever tasted)
1996 Chateau Meyney (awfully good for a less-expensive Bordeaux)
1996 St. Francis Zin (way past its prime; a good data point for life of zins)
1999 Silver Oak Alexander Valley (super, but oddly short finish)
1995 Lokoya Diamond Mountain (one of the crowd faves-incredible richness of perfume)
1992 Chateau Montelena (good, but often the Monties seem to slightly underperform)
1992 Dominus (another favorite; complex, lush, harmonious)
1995 Opus One (my first ever! very good but not worth the $200 PV)
1986 Chateau Cos d'Estournel (should've been the grand finish but disappointed severely; OK in the mouth--not grand--but the nose was way off)

And two stickies:

1989 Chateau Rieussec (ah! fields of honeyed flowers; stupendous)
1983 D'Oliveira Boal Harvest Madeira (not my cup of tea, but interesting)

The winelist was probably worth about $1500 (present value). It's great to bring together a group like this, where our collective purchasing power enabled this tasting for $30 per person. I was just trying to not lose too much on the event: I came close to covering my initial purchase cost on the wines, and six of the above bottles were very kindly brought by others, and we had a fabulous spread of food: organic (no preservative) Canadian bacon, and Harvarti cheese and red pepper tapenade on toasted baguette slices; mango-chicken sausage; blue cheese alongside dates; four kinds of chocolate (which goes great with dry red wine; try it!); relish platter; organic French bread, cut up; pate and cornichons; jam bars with apricot preserves; and yes even those peanut butter-filled pretzels.

A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Miraculous Grapes That Comprise Bordeaux Wine

Many Bordeaux wines do not contain all of these grapes, but most of them are blends of at least some of these (and a very few may be limited to just one of these varieties):

Cabernet sauvignon ("cab-air-nay so-veen-yawn"): Has a profile of black currants, black cherry, plums, spices, vanilla. A purple wine. An ideal variety for aging. But it needs blends, for softness and complexity. I have learned to be leery of many 100% cabs. Medium-to-full bodied. Late-ripening; it needs pretty extreme heat units. The palates of the people of the world have decreed that this is the King of Grapes. I actually do not agree. But you cannot dispute its importance.

Cabernet franc (pictured): A parent (along with Sauvignon blanc) of Cabernet sauvignon. Profile: pepper, tobacco, plum, and sometimes violets on the nose, and plum, raspberry, currant on the palate. Lighter body; fruitier and more herbal than Cab sauv. It makes a bright red wine. Cheval Blanc, a famous St. Emilion chateau, is primarily Cab franc.

Merlot: Named for the Old French word for "blackbird" (for the grape's black color and the love those birds have for this grape). Medium-bodied; softer. A great "entry grape" for those learning about red wine. Profile: Berry, plum, currant, black cherry. A sibling of Cab sauv. Chateau Petrus (the worlds most expensive wine, after DRC?) is 90% Merlot. Don't believe what you see in movies; this is a GREAT grape.

Petit verdot ("puh-tee vair-doh"): Ripens very late; is no longer very successful in Bordeaux. Adds tannin, color, and leather notes. Bouquet is dark fruits, violets, and leather. Palate has vanilla, smoke, spice, cedar, molasses, and dense, dark fruits. It is obscure, having as parents Tressot and Duras. Is growing well in Washington.

Malbec: Inky dark. Strong tannins. Medium-to-full body. Plums, blackberry, violets and tobacco. Very jammy, due to its rich fruit and unctuousness. Interesting: Try it with Mexican, Cajun, Indian, Italian, and barbecue! Not much grown in Bordeaux, but has become the signature grape of Argentina and is enjoying a rapid (well-deserved) rise in popularity.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A (new) oldest winery found

National Geographic scientists have found the oldest-known complete winery facility, in south-eastern Armenia. (Armenia is SE of the Black Sea, and is bordered by Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia; this particular site is near the Iranian border.) Dating to 4000 B.C. (6000 years ago), the facility includes a shallow basin (for foot-stomping grapes) which drained into a deep vat (for fermentation).

Interestingly, seeds remain from the use of the facility, and they have been tested. They are from various varieties of Vitis vinifera--the same wine grapes we use today.

The previous oldest winery was found in Egypt, dating 5100 years ago.

However, there is evidence of even earlier wine drinking. This is just the oldest-known winery. Wine drinking goes, way, way back in time, to a time when wild wine grapes were fermenting on the ground, and folks noticed the birds who ate that mess were acting strangely, and the rest is history.

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Index for Fine Wines? But of course

Liv-ex is an index, managed in the U.K. It tracks mid-range auction prices for an impressively long list of collectible wines (mostly Bordeaux). Trades are even conducted using the index for pricing.
(The graphic to your left is taken from Liv-ex's website; Liv-ex owns all rights in that name, site, and information.) Notice the slope of the line. Overall, it has been trending up pretty seriously, for the past four years.
Trades in wine are conducted, using the Liv-ex pricing. If enough trades occur, then traders can start to write options (puts, calls, collars, etc.) on the wine index, betting on which way it will move. This is no different from crude oil or pork bellies. It commoditizes wine (when, in fact, each wine is different, more so than pork bellies or barrels of oil), but it does serve a useful purpose in hedging risk. (It can also be misused to incur risk, which is not hedging--that is SPECULATION and it can lead to personal bankruptcy.)
Time will tell if a wine index finds greater and greater use in the economy. I once had the idea to create a "wine mutual fund" in which the fund's money would be used to buy and hold fine wines; fund shareholders could buy and share their shares, even as the wines sat still in the warehouse. It is an idea whose time might come, someday. Today, amidst a Lafite bubble, probably isn't the best time to start such a fund.

Record gains in fine wine investments

Interesting: Wine has recently outperformed all other investments. This will change, as everything does, but it is interesting.

That performance has something to do with the fact that unlike old paintings or collectible gold coins, a vintage of collectible wine is removed from the market as it is drunk, thereby becoming scarcer and scarcer. This was the premise of my own Great Wine Experiment, which I began in about 1980.

However, it also has a lot to do with the recent growth of wealth in China. In particular, a popular television show depicted a popular couple enjoying a bottle of Chateau Lafite (a First Growth Bordeaux wine), and suddenly Lafite prices went through the roof as wealthy Chinese sought to buy Lafite. An international wine broker told me that we are definitely in a Lafite bubble, as a result of that TV show.

Meanwhile, the Chinese continue to buy Bordeaux, and particularly Lafite. American sellers are obliging them.

One interesting point is that the Chinese businesspeople tend to receive these wines and immediately drink them, such as at a business lunch (!). That is in sharp contrast to the US and UK, where such bottles are cherished and opening one is a big deal for a major occasion (if it is ever opened).

Bubbles are fascinating. Will be fun to see where this one leads. Perhaps India is next to buy Bordeaux!
And, a warning: I have learned the hard way that the selection of wines for long-term investment, there are many potential pitfalls. Do not undertake it unless you are prepared to do it correctly. Contact me, if you're interested in learning more.

Oregonian axes Matt Kramer

Wow. This is big news. (Kramer is the Oregonian's wine critic.) I assume this has mostly to do with the continued death-by-a-thousand-cuts at the nation's newspapers. I do not expect the Oregonian to survive another decade.

Kramer had a strong local following. He was at times overly supportive of European wines, particularly French ones, for which he drew some heat. But he also supported many good local wines. He will be missed.

In the "where's the justice" category: Why does a guy like Kramer lose his job, whereas that know-nothing at Salon keeps his wine critic gig?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sushi Ichiban!

Sushi Ichiban (formerly Sushi Takehashi) is located at 24 NW Broadway; that's a block or less north of Burnside, on Broadway.
They have a train (not a conveyor belt-a real, old model train, with flatbed cars), which circles the chef island for your sushi-choosing pleasure (just try to say "sushi-choosing pleasure" fast, ten times). The fish is very fresh and tasty. The green tea really is golden-green, and is wonderful, and comes with your very own lovely antique porcelain teapot with wicker handle. The orange "special sauce" (rooster hot sauce in mayo) is the best I've had in Portland; it has some other spices in it.
On Wed and Sat, most of the sushi menu is discounted to just $1.25 a plate. But on other days (we went on Sunday lunch; they open at noon on Sunday) the plates cost just $1.00, $1.50, $2.00, and $3.00. What a deal! And if you don't see what you like on the train, just fill out a form and the chef will make it for you.
Good '80s music (Pat Benatar, for example) plays overhead. It's a downtown crowd, so don't expect to see your suburban neighbors there. But it's just fine. The servers are friendly, as is the chef, who took time to enthusiastically answer my questions about one particularly well-made dish (Tiger Roll: snapper tempura in a rice roll, capped with a sweet tofu wrapper, scallions, and special sauce). At least three of their dishes were fare I hadn't seen before, anywhere else (such as white radish roll (with a bundle of radish sprouts) and yellow radish roll.
The two of us stuffed ourselves for just $19 plus tip. That's my kind of restaurant! Yes, I like Sushiville (NW 23rd), Sushi Town (NW 185th), and several other sushi restaurants, but this is another favorite to add to the list! I went to it about ten years ago; I've been remiss for waiting so long to go back. Check it out.

My Vineyard in Winter

My slumbering vineyard floor is kissed

By winter's snowy, foggy mist,

Almost obscuring the upright posts

Which stand, like sentinels,

Which stand, like ghosts,

Awaiting the return of Spring.

Your refrigerator

You probably already have in your kitchen a device which will save you from all your worries about how to store an opened bottle of wine.

It is SO SIMPLE--just put the cork back partway in the bottle and stick the bottle in the fridge.

Do this for your reds and your whites. Do not fear. The cold temp prevents oxidation. The wine remains fresh.

When you're ready to drink the wine again, if it's white, just uncork, pour, and wait a bit for the wine to come up to proper white wine temp.

If it's a red, either let it warm to room temp the old-fashioned way (using time and the laws of thermodynamics), or pour a glass and nuke it for about :10-:12 seconds in the microwave. Then swirl, to make the temperature uniform throughout the glass.

Do not be afraid. This works. This does not harm the wine. Do not be afraid.

And you do not need a vacuum system (which doesn't work; the differential atmospheric pressure draws oxygen back into the bottle MUCH quicker than you might realize). And you do not need a sparging system (a cannister which fills the headspace with an inert gas). Hooray!

Isn't life great when it's made more simple?

2008 Elk Cove Pinot noir: A Real Find

In taste tests, I was very pleasantly surprised by the 2008 Elk Cove Willamette Valley Pinor noir. In fact, it beats out many Oregon Pinots costing more than twice as much. 2008 was Oregon's greatest vintage. We should all be laying down quality Pinots (and other wines) from that year.

This Pinot gets 90 points from Wine & Spirits, and is marked a Best Buy. I appreciate its quality "Oregon Pinot nose" for the price, and it also has great fruit, balance, and length.

Best of all, this particular Pinot noir is only $20 when purchased from me (versus $29 at the winery!). That is a pretty great price for a pretty good Pinot.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Vitis aestivalis: Silver Leaf grape

You are looking at the underside of the Silver Leaf grape, or, more properly, Vitis aestivalis. It is a wild American grape found throughout the Eastern U.S. The silver underside (along with the traditional bright green topside) gives a certain variety of this species the name "bicolor." (And, isn't that red pigment in the stem attractive?)
Aestivalis is very cold hardy. It is also the parent of the winegrape "Norton," which was loved by Thos. Jefferson for its wine, and is even now considered an excellent wine grape. I will be pouring some Virginia Nortons at an upcoming all-Virginia winetasting.
But grape breeders are using V. aestivalis in efforts to breed a Norton-like grape cold-hardy enough to grow in places like Minnesota, New Hampshire, and even Eastern Canada. Aestivalis has already been used to make several very useful hybrid winegrapes. Problem is, it's a devil of a grape to root. Some growers try every trick in the book, but cannot get even one cutting to issue roots. That's compared to most other grape cuttings, which even a greenhorn like me can root without much trouble. Breeders comb the wilderness, collecting wild grapes (the fruit, and the cuttings). They plant the seed, and they root the cuttings, if they can, and thus begins the multi-year effort to create a new cross (hybrid).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Taste test: 1999 L'ecole No. 41 Cab

Eleven years later! I'd been holding this wine since I bought it at the winery on my first trip to Walla Walla in 2002. Paid retail, about $35. Opened and vigorously swirled, it was good with a beef dish. Comments:

Color: The traditional magnificent dark purple hue extracted from red Walla Walla fruit. It's a desert! Color should always be dark--near black.

Nose: Disappointing. This is 100% Cabernet sauvignon; I suspected that because it didn't offer up much in the way of fruits, flowers, cedar, or leather. In Bordeaux they do it right, by blending in some aromatic varieties (Merlot, Cab franc, etc.). Advice to winemakers: Don't forget the nose! Humans are incredibly nose-driven, and in foodstuffs the smell is critical!

Palate: Nice dark fruits. Smooth tannins. Good finish.

Overall score: 87. Way too few points, for so many purchase dollars! I note that one Snooth amateur scorer gave it just 3.5 stars, out of five.

Conclusion: Glad that was my last bottle, of two. There are many better Walla Walla wines.

How Climate Change's Extreme Weather Events Affect Grapes and Wine:

  We (Epona) joined the Porto Protocol a year or two ago; it's a collaboration of grapegrowers and winemakers, worldwide, who are focusi...