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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Check Out My Wife's Rack

Mrs. JazzFoodWineDude's wine rack sits on our dining room table. As long as I keep it full, life is good.

My wife and I met one evening at one of her local hangouts after connecting on Match.com. For those of you that are single, and are looking to upgrade your online profile, try adding "I sell wine for a living" to your bio. It's like shooting fish in a barrel after that. I actually had never tried online dating before, and she was the 2nd person I talked to. I like to remind her that when I signed up, they had a 3 month special for $50. I would have paid $100.

We met at the bar, and she was drinking a glass of their house Peeno Noor. I ordered a glass of the same, and she still reminds me of the face I made when I took a sip. It could have been a dealbreaker, but I had to stick to my guns on this one, lest I compromise my integrity. No relationship should be based on a lie. I figured I should get the whole wine snob thing out in the open from the start.

I don't order wine in restaurants. Ever. Neither should you, unless you know what you're doing. There are a couple of nicer restaurants that have great wine lists, but other than special occasions, it's not something that we can swing on a weekly basis. In case you haven't heard of them, they got this great thing now called B.Y.O.B. I had a sommelier come to our table one time, and explain to me that the bottle of Dogliani I ordered, wasn't sweet. I replied "It better not be." Was he even old enough to drink wine? I bring my own wine, as well as my own corkscrew. I don't care what sort of glass they give me most of the time, as long as it's clean. I'm a firm believer in the importance of quality stemware, but I also believe that I break more wineglasses than the average wine drinker, and we usually stock up at Christmas Tree Shop.

I work a lot of crazy hours at the store, and I worry about her when I'm not home. I made her a promise when we started dating that her wine glass would always be half full. (If you want a "full" glass of wine, go to TGI Fridays. They go all the way up to the edge of the rim. A disgrace, if you ask me.) I have my own wine rack, where I usually keep the more "special" bottles, but part of my job as the wine guy, and best husband ever (Aren't they the same thing?) is to make sure that wifey has some good fermented grapejuice that she can enjoy whenever she likes. She has her own wine rack on our dining room table, and it holds about a week's worth or more. All of these wines are between $10-$15, and as you might expect, are from small wineries, and are sustainably produced, organic or biodynamic. Let's take a look at this week's lineup.

Fabre Montmayou "Trilogie" Malbec 2015, Mendoza, Argentina

This is more or less, Hervé Joyaux Fabre's 2nd label, which is from vineyards he manages, rather than from the one's on his own estate. He's originally from Bordeaux, so look for a more reserved approach, as opposed to the all too typical hit you over the head with a bunch of fruit on the front end and then leave me hanging that so many of the larger producers like to give you. His own label wines are also terrific, and are all less than $15, aside from his Gran Reserva line, which is about $20. Trilogie is a steal for $10/bottle!

Bodegas y Viñedos Merayo, Mencía Bierzo (2015)

This was a recent find from one of my favorite importers. It was a busy week, and when the wines came in, I thought there had been a mistake on the invoice. I've sold Mencía for twice the price of this one that weren't this good. It's such a cool varietal. Years ago, it was believed that Mencía may have been Cabernet Franc, or somehow related to it, growing in Spain. DNA tests proved it wasn't, but stylistically, they're so similar, that it's hard not to be a fan of both. Medium bodied, violet floral notes on the nose, very feminine and pretty wine. Can't beat it for $10/bottle!

Paul Dolan Vineyards Mendocino County Zinfandel (2015)

One of my sales reps brougt this one along this last week. I don't usually get excited about domestically produced wine, but I do when it's done right. Paul Dolan wines are made using only organic grapes and native yeasts. I'm unclear about their official certification, but if you check out the logo on the label, it's supposed to be 3 bull horns, so it's pretty clear to me that they're following at least some of the practices of biodynamics.

It's not over the top jammy like some other "entry level" Zins from California. This one clocks in at 15% ABV. This wasn't designed to be a crowd pleaser, but for those of you that don't need training wheels anymore, this Zinfandel is the real deal. It's big, powerful, well structured, but not overly astringent. There's that unmistakably Zin fruit on the mid-palate, along with almost minty overtones on the nose, but there's an earthiness to it as well. Less than $15/bottle!

Parducci Small Lot Blend Pinot Noir (2014)

I usually don't have very nice things to say about California Pinot Noir. This bottle is terrific! Lively raspberry and strawberry fruit, with just a hint of cedar holding it together. It's shocking to see a Mendocino Pinot Noir in a glass, and actually be able to see through it. That's because it's actually Pinot Noir, not that hot mess of over extracted, over the top, probably 25% Syrah and Petite Syrah, with a bit of Mega Purple just to make sure the marketing department's campaign goes off without a hitch. If that's what you like, you'll hate this Pinot Noir. Me? Most of these chemical coctails that larger companies are passing off as wine make my teeth hurt. Real Pinot Noir should be simple, uncomplicated, light, and do a little tap dance on your tongue. $12/bottle! Are you kidding me?

Parducci is 100% sustainably produced, by the way. So, put down that mass produced national brand that you're totally sick of anyway and give this one a shot.

Casa do Valle, Homenagem Reserva (2012)

From Minho, Portugal, this is a really easy drinking blend of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Merlot, and Sousão. Not familiar with these varietals? That's OK. Let me break it down for you. Think of it like a Bordeaux blend, if you will. Playing the part of Cabernet Sauvignon is Touriga Nacional. In the role of Cabernet Franc, Touriga Franca. Merlot needs no understudy, apparently in this blend. (Such a diva.) Sousão makes a cameo appearance playing the part of Petite Verdot. All of these are typically used in the production of Port wine.

This bottle will be spending some time over at our house this summer, as it's going to rock with all the stuff I'm going to be grilling. Less than $15/bottle!

Bodegas y Viñedos Neo, Ribera del Duero Disco (2014)

We carried this one about 2 years ago. I loved it, and sold a case of it in just a couple of days. Then it was gone. It wasn't until it got picked up by a new company that we brought it back in. We all wondered what had happened to it. The confusion may have stemmed from the fact that whenever we discontinue an item in the store, it shows up in the computer as "disco", which is an unfortunate name for this wine. Cool label for all of you hipster vinyl collectors. It's back, and since this is one of the comanies I work with rather closely, it won't be "disco" anytime soon.
100% Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero. I prefer this style of Tempranillo over one's from Rioja. THey just have a bit more substance, are a bit less oxidized, and are a bit more in the pocket with ripeness of the fruit. Pair with red meat, please! $12/bottle, means it's cheap enough that you can enjoy a bottle, and also not feel guilty about using about half of one to marinate whatever you're grilling.

Last, but not least...

Lomas del Valle Coastal Cool Climate Wine Single Vineyard Pinot Noir (2015)

Pinot Noir from Chile can be such a great deal. This is one of them, for sure. I just brought this one in from a company that I didn't do much business with, but they got a new sales rep, so I decided to give them another shot.

Organically produced, and the sticker on the neck of the bottle is from James Suckling, who gave it 92 points. We actually have a joke in the store about him. He's a pleaser of a wine critic, and people might take him more seriously if he ever gave a bad score. We usually deduct 3-4 points when it's one of his reviews. I couldn't care less about all these guys and their point system, and I largely ignore the whole thing. Some people shop by numbers and scores, but I'm not one of them. How about this number. Less than $15/bottle!

Lively fruit, silky, everything Pinot Noir should be from Casablanca Valley, Chile, minus the bell pepper, which is all too typical of the larger producers that pick the grapes too early so thay can just crank it out. I wish that I had ordered a glass of this Peeno Noor when I met Mrs. JazzFoodWineDude. Maybe she wouldn't think I'm such a snob.

Tell me about what's in your wine rack. Like most people, $10-$15 is my sweet spot, and I'm always looking for something new.

Cheers! -JFWD

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I'm Only Dating These Wines. I'm Not Marrying Them.

Ordering wine for a retail store is a bit more involved than just picking out wines that you like. You need to think about any number of different things. I meet plenty of wines that sadly, will never make it onto the shelves. I love my job. I get to deal with most of the "smaller" distributors and importers where I work, and there are so many great wines to choose from, that it's easy to get carried away. Almost every day, I get to try all kinds of different wines and spirits, from any number of small producers. I sometimes joke about how it's such a tough job drinking wine at work, but it really is. Saying "no" is the toughest part. Unfortunately, I have to say "no" quite a bit. After all, I'm spending the owner's money when I buy this stuff. He's going to want it back with a profit at some point in the near future. That's how it works.

Even though the store I work for is big, there is still a finite amount of shelf space. I spend almost as much time tasting and evaluating new wine, as I do checking on wines that we already have on the shelf. Sometimes, it simply doesn't matter how much I love a wine, or how excited I was about it when we first met. Sometimes, the magic is gone, and it's time to move on. As much as I like to believe that I can sell anything, sometimes, certain wines just don't fly off the shelves. Priorities shift. The seasons change, and quite frankly, sometimes I just get bored with the same thing. Time to break up. Sorry, wine. It's not you. It's me.

Right now, I'm very excited about my Sicilian section of the store. Why? Maybe it's because up until about a month ago, I didn't have one worth mentioning. Now, it's almost all I talk about. I need to keep in the back of my head, that I'm usually good for about 2-3 months before I've moved on to something else that I find interesting, so I haven't made a huge committment, but let's have fun with it while it lasts.

There is something wonderful about wines from the Mediterranean area. Generally speaking, the reds seem to have brighter, meatier fruit, and take on a certain brinyness that you don't really find in other areas. It's almost as if someone threw some Calmatta olives in with the grapes while they were fermenting. White wines can come across a little nutty on the finish, with almonds or other tree nuts mixed in with the minerals on the finish. This makes them more than ideal for food pairings, especially if you stick to the cuisine from the same neighborhood as the wines.

I've found a few that are worth mentioning for sure, and regret that there are still a few more that I'd love to have, but alas... It simply wasn't meant to be.

Tenuta di Castellaro, Nero Ossidiana (2013)

This wine comes from the Lipari Islands, which is off the northern coast of Sicily, where the climate and volcanic soil work together to make for some rather interesting Terroir. For the record, my favorite Italian wines are made near volcanoes.

This selection is a blend of 60% Corinto, 20% Nero D'Avola and the remaining 20% is Alicante. Corinto is actually a seedless variety, which may account for it's lack of any sort of "green" tannins. This wine is juicy, with flavors of cherry, ripe plum and a hint of chewy black tar holding it all together. I brought this bottle home a few days ago, and have been looking forward to pairing up with my homemade chicken Marsala. It's on the shelf for about $30. Organically produced. Definitely in my top 5 at the moment.

Agricola Altomonte Antonino, Palizzi Rosso (2014)

From Calabria, the "toe" of Italy, this wine is a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nero D'Avola. Rustic and spicy, with almost tart red fruit, and soft, earthy tannins. This bottle practically begs to be paired with red meat. I find it ironic that one of my regular customers that's currently hooked on this one is a vegan. (I don't hold that against him.) This bottle is a bit of a treat at about $45, but well worth it. Organically produced.
I don't drink a lot of whites, but I feel like I need to mention this one as well. As I was writing this, I received a call from the owner of my store asking what I had recommended to one of my regulars that drinks almost exclusively Chardonnay. I got him hooked on Elio Grasso's Chardonnay a while back, but last time he was in, we were waiting for the new vintage, so I suggested this one.

Tenuta Rapitalà, Terre Siciliane Chardonnay Grand Cru (2015)

I don't see many, if any Sicilian Chardonnay, and this one was very interesting indeed. Chardonnay is such a cool varietal. It's one of the most effected by it's surroundings, and this is a great example of that. It's rich and creamy, with hints of vanilla and butterscotch. Ripe stone fruit, and just hinting at being a bit oxidized, gives this Chardonnay a funky edge that's very unique indeed. Apparently my customer enjoyed it as well, as he was looking for more of it today. Each sip of this wine was slightly different, and I had to keep retasting it to really pick up on everything that was going on. Although this Chardonnay drinks big, it doesn't sacrifice a thing in the way of acidity or balance. I could see this wine working with pine nut encrusted salmon, even though I typically go with rosé for this type of pairing. This wine is savory, sustainably produced, and is on the shelf for about $30. This ain't no cougar juice.

Tell me about the wine you're currently dating. I'd love to hear about it. I'm not breaking up with these wines anytime soon, but I do like to play the field, at least when it comes to wine.

Cheers! -JFWD

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pinot Grigio is Boring

There. I Said it. I'm not taking it back either. For those of you that don't know me, I'm the wine guy. I don't know what it says on my business card. Some fancy title like wine director or wine manager. Whatever. About twice a year, I get a customer complaint. It's usually because I offended someone. The rest of the time, I'm running around the store, sometimes arguing with my customers about what's in their shopping carts. "Why would you buy that?" "Give me that. Come with me. I know what you really want." Sometimes, the reaction I get from people is like a deer in the headlights. I'm sure that some of them are thinking "Did he really just take my wine away from me?"

Yes. I did.

I have an understanding with most of my sales reps, who are all very familiar with what I do. I break wine up into 3 general categories.

1. I highly recommend it.
2. I won't take it away from you. Maybe.
3. I wouldn't drink that with a gun to my head. 

My understanding is simply this. I know that there is no way of stopping the big corporate, overmarketed, mass produced, cleverly labeled wine, or as I like to call it, "hot liquid garbage." It's on every awful wine list in almost every restaurant in the country. I'm just one guy. What I can do, is try my best to educate everyone I meet, and hopefully bring some of them back from the dark side and into the light.

Every wine has a circle, or comfort zone as I like to say. These circles overlap. I wouldn't take someone who is buying a popular brand of Pinot Grigio, and hand them a bottle of 2005 Muscadet, even though it's amazing. They're not even close to being able to wrap their head around that yet. Baby steps. I like to ease them out of their comfort zone by suggesting something that overlaps a bit, but I don't just throw it in their cart. I will almost always tell them why, give them a description of the wine, food pairing suggestions, why it works so well with certain dishes, and why trying something new won't hurt a bit. Very often, they will leave with my suggestion, but shaking their head, saying something like "If I don't like this, I'm going to come back and find you." I love it when they do come back and find me, only to ask "What else do you have?"

What was I talking about again? Pinot Grigio is boring. Well, maybe not boring. Inoffensive. Truth be told, I like my wines to offend me a little bit. It gives me something to think about. I like it when a wine in my glass almost argues with me. Not sure if any of you have been there, but it's fun.

That being said, there are a couple that I do recommend to people that simply just got to have it. Here goes.

Vigneti del Sole, Pinot Grigio Tre Venezie (2015)

We get this one from one of the smaller companies we deal with. It's a lighter style of PG, and it's been selling like hotcakes. A little bit of citrus, green apple, with a hint of almonds on the finish. It's fine. It's $8 a bottle, and even cheaper if you buy it by the case. I usually keep a few bottles on hand for cooking at home, and it's great for when the neighbors come over and I know that they're just going to pour it down their gullet anyway. That's right. Sometimes I'm off the clock, and don't feel like giving a wine lesson.

Like I said. It's fine. That's about as exciting as it gets. It's much better than any domestically produced PG. Pinot Gris? I know it's the same grape, but it's a different style entirely. Let's table that discussion for now. If you're looking for a decent, inexpensive white wine for everyday drinking, or to serve at parties, this one, along with their Montepulciano D'Abbruzzo (also pretty decent) is at the top of my list. Yes. It has a screwcap. Trust me. That's not even a thing anymore. Screwcaps are cool. I'm not a fan of synthetic corks. They're simply the worst. More on that another time.

Elena Walch, Alto Adige Pinot Grigio Selezione (2015)

If you're looking for a "step-up", look no further than this one. It's more rounded and elegant, with ripe pears and stone fruit on the mid palate. Look for a dash of white pepper and a hint of herbs on the finish. This is what that other, more popular brand of PG should taste like, if they didn't completely screw it up. I won't mention it by name, but if you're spending more than $20 on a bottle of it, you're out of your mind. I will take it from you.

Elena Walch is $16 on the shelf, which makes it more than $4 cheaper than that other one, and it blows it out of the water. It's still Pinot Grigio, but as Pinot Grigio goes, this is a good one. Also, it's sustainably produced, so you should feel extra cool buying this one.

Working in a large liquor store is kind of cool. There are so many good wines to choose from, and I rarely drink the same thing over and over again. I get bored even with wines that I'm in love with. Right now, I'm on a Sicilian kick. Let's see how long that lasts.

OK, PG drinkers. When was the last time you met a new grape? How about some
Grillo? What's that?

Tenuta Rapitala Grillo Sicilia D.O.C. (2015)

This is a fantastic bottle of white wine for the money. Look for a pale, golden yellow-greenish hue in the glass. Lots of herbs, floral notes, and citrus. I love wines from the Mediterranean area, as they seem to take on an additional layer of savory, along with the fruit, which makes them great food pairing wines. Sometimes, when I work late, my wife will have some late night snacks for me, which is usually some black olives, hummus and pita chips, a few different cheeses, and capers. I'm spoiled. It hasn't really warmed up yet here in South Jersey, so I've been more into reds. Come spring and summer, this one will be in my regular lineup. This one is on the shelf for $10, and it's sustainably produced, which makes it a no-brainer.Tenuta Rapitala has kind of a cool story, which is what caught my attention. We carry 7 different wines, both red and white from this producer, and they're all excellent.

Tamí Grillo IGT Terre Sicilane 2015

I've been a fan of winemaker, Arianna Occhipinti for many years now. This is one of 2 wines under her 2nd label, Tamí. Although classified IGT, not D.O.C., this is a bit of a step up in quality. Her wines are 100% organically produced. Her own label is biodynamic. If you get the chance to try any of her "higher-end" wines, don't hesitate for a second. They're phenomenal.

Compared to the Tenuta Rapitala, this wine is a bit more lightweight, with brighter acidity, and a lengthier finish, but it's also $16, compared to $10. I carried this wine when I worked at another store years ago, and was very eager to bring it into our lineup. It's also about a billion times more interesting than the best Pinot Grigio I've had, so be sure to check this one out.

I'm always on the lookout for new wines. I'd love to hear about some of your favorites. Tell me what knocks your wine socks off. Cheers! -JFWD